Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its relatively modest carbon emission limits proposal, preemptively opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, it was reported that many Chamber members and utilities didn’t actually stand with the Chamber on its opposition to climate progress.

A new survey of small businesses, “Small Business Owners’ Views on Climate & Energy Policy Reform,” indicates the U.S. Chamber is even more isolated in its regressive anti-science position. Especially considering the Chamber’s frequent attempts to claim small businesses as a part of its constituency, the clear call by small business owners to address climate change, evidenced in this report, is remarkable.

Among the major findings:

  • 87 percent of business owners named consequences of climate change as potentially harmful to their businesses;
  • 64 percent of businesses believe government regulation is needed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants; and
  • 57 percent of businesses said that the biggest carbon emitters should make the biggest reductions in carbon emissions and bear most of the costs of reduction efforts.

The findings came from a scientific, national phone survey of 555 small business owners (2 to 99 employees). Significantly, more respondents identified as Republican or independent-leaning Republican (43 percent total) than as being or leaning toward any other group. The report was produced by the American Sustainable Business Council.

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Domestic Fossil Fuel Abundance Fails to Deliver Cheap Energy For Americans

House Republicans plan votes before July 4 on at least three bills (HR 6, HR 3301, HR 4899) to increase domestic fossil fuel production and facilitate their export, with a “Drill Baby Drill” mantra designed to inspire a return to lower gas prices. Political parties can be forgiven for failing to update their rhetoric in the face of changing market dynamics. But the antiquated bombast designed during a period of relative energy scarcity is downright silly in today’s era of energy abundance. Domestic fossil fuel production is at record highs, and in less than two years we’ll be the largest oil producer in the world. Despite the fact we’re awash in domestically-produced fossil fuels, Americans continue to pay more for gasoline. That’s because petroleum prices are set by energy traders based on global events—so our prices will go up even if these GOP bills pass as long as Chinese demand and Middle East unrest fuel speculation. Particularly problematic is HR 6, which will make it easier to export natural gas, threatening higher prices for American consumers.

Lost in the House effort to reduce regulations over oil drilling is their willful amnesia of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy: why on earth is the House GOP trying to relax offshore drilling safety and environmental standards that the bipartisan commission found to be too weak? And of course none of the legislation recognize the need to deal with greenhouse gas emissions.

Eviscerating regulations over fossil fuel production and encouraging their export is a poor excuse for an energy policy. Progressively pricing carbon and investing billions into a sustainable energy infrastructure is the most cost-effective path to get our energy system working for families.

Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on Twitter @TysonSlocum

As the White House, Congressional leadership and energy regulators at FERC are fast-tracking natural gas exports, they’re forgetting one important fact: it’s against the law. First, a little background. Less than a decade ago, natural gas prices were at record highs and folks like then-Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan were saying that the US had to make it easier to permit Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) imports. Fast forward to today, where fracking has resulted in booming domestic natural gas production, fueling calls to make it easier to permit LNG exports. But fracking poses enormous risks to the environment, nullifying emissions benefits when it is burned as a fuel. We’ve raised these concerns about LNG exports in the past, but new research shows that exporting LNG is illegal.

In 1975, President Ford signed the Energy Policy & Conservation Act into law. In order to protect consumers, Section 103(b)(1) of the EPCA (S.622) directed the President of the United States “to promulgate a rule prohibiting the export of crude oil and natural gas produced in the United States, except that the President may…exempt from such prohibition such crude oil or natural gas exports which he [sic] determines to be consistent with the national interest.” While the Department of Commerce promulgated rules banning crude oil exports, the agency never got around to writing rules banning natural gas exports. This oversight not only means that proposed LNG exports are most likely illegal, but that consumers are at risk. That’s because of supply and demand: the more fracked natural gas we export, domestic supplies will get tighter, pushing up gas prices for households and businesses.

Public Citizen will ask the Department of Commerce to issue this long-dormant requirement to ban natural gas exports (stopgasexports.org)not just to protect consumers, but to discourage the additional fracking that would occur to meet expanded demand wrought by LNG exports.

Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on Twitter @TysonSlocum

TysonCNBCRecently I appeared on CNBC to discuss whether to lift the 39-year old ban on exporting US produced crude oil. Ending the ban is bad policy for 5 reasons.

I. Allowing the export of crude oil will raise gasoline prices for American consumers. As I’ve argued before, while the oil boom can’t lead to affordable energy for Americans, it has led to a very slight discount for US refiners, which in turn lowers gasoline prices just a tad.

II. It doesn’t make sense to start exporting crude oil when we’re still importing 7.6 million barrels of oil every day, and we’ll continue to be dependent on imports for a long time.

III. Exporting crude will provide incentives to produce more oil, further straining environmental concerns from fracking and deepwater drilling, and exacerbating the impacts of global climate change from its overseas consumption. While we are currently exporting record amounts of refined petroleum products like diesel and gasoline, allowing the export of the raw crude oil will significantly increase the rate at which we export domestically produced oil. That’s because right now crude oil producers must first ship their product to a refiner, where it can take a while to turn the crude into end products. Allowing for direct crude exports will allow producers to bypass the refineries altogether, and will expand the number of export ports from which to unload the crude.NA-BZ765_OILEXP_G_20140122181803

IV. Crude oil exports won’t be effective as a diplomatic tool to counter influence of, say, Russian or Saudi energy exports because the United States simply lacks adequate spare capacity to meaningfully dilute those countries’ dominance over certain markets.

V. Focusing on whether to export crude oil or not misses the larger point: we can’t have this debate in a vacuum separate from the need to establish a national energy and climate policy that comprehensively establishes a clear path for consumers to enjoy access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy for generations to come.

Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on Twitter @TysonSlocum

Yesterday we joined with our friends The Utility Reform Network and the National Consumer Law Center to protest a motion by a group of power plant owners and Shell Oil to increase household electric utility bills by millions of dollars in California. Here’s the deal: just as Public Citizen predicted, the fracking boom does not guarantee cheap natural gas, as prices skyrocketed from December to February with the cold weather snap. Because natural gas fuels 27% of electricity production, that means some generators saw their costs increase. Under complex reliability rules, some of these generators and power marketers claim they haven’t been able to recover all of their costs in the marketplace, and petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for an emergency waiver from market rules to allow them to recover 100% of their rising natural gas costs.Shell As we point out, this proposal shifts all the risk away from the owners of power plants an onto household consumers, while at the same time allowing these same generators to pocket excess profits should gas prices fall. But the really outrageous component of this brazen plan is that one of the petitioners is Shell Energy, a major seller of electricity in the marketplace. We write: “Shell Energy’s inclusion as one of the suppliers seeking the emergency waiver is particularly egregious because of Shell’s unique role as a global leader in natural gas production. Shell Energy’s parent company, Royal Dutch Shell plc, is one of the largest natural gas producers in the world and in the U.S. It is outrageous that an affiliate of such a major natural gas producer seeks relief from perceived high natural gas prices—particularly when affiliates of Shell Energy are enjoying stronger profits from the increased natural gas prices from sales of gas produced from thousands of Shell’s drilling wells.” In addition, affiliates of other suppliers requesting the emergency waiver are also sophisticated energy price hedgers, with companies like NRG and Dynegy veterans of dealing with natural gas fuel price volatility through the years, including the 2000s. And some of the owners of La Paloma, notably the investment banks Morgan Stanley & Credit Suisse, are among the most erudite proprietary financial traders of natural gas contracts in the world, and should therefore be quite capable of managing commodity price risk. We demand that FERC reject this outrageous request to shift big energy company’s risks onto working families utility bills.

Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on Twitter @TysonSlocum

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